Merford: increased revenue, improved collaborations, and breakthroughs in development and innovation.

As the CEO of Merford, a specialist in sound management, acoustic materials, and doors, Robbert-Jan Ter Horst worked with Turner Strategy Execution to challenge his plans for the future. The result: a sharply formulated strategy that is already yielding results. The Board of Supervisors and shareholders have fully supported the strategy.

1. What was the issue for which you engaged Turner? And what made it complicated?

In the autumn of 2021, the Board of Supervisors and Managing Director Robbert-Jan Ter Horst of Merford decided to engage Turner to further refine their future plans. Ter Horst has been leading the sound management, acoustic materials, and acoustic/fire-resistant doors specialist since 2019, a classic family business. He had many ideas but realized he needed to avoid having his employees discussing his latest plan every month. Additionally, he wanted to provide stability in direction to the Board of Supervisors and shareholders.

Merford, founded in 1956, consists of several companies: Merford Noise Control, Merford Special Doors, and Merford Acoustic Materials. The main headquarters are in Gorinchem, but Merford also has a sales office in Belgium, a sales and R&D facility in England, and a specialized webshop. In total, they have 150 employees. The revenue of 32 million euros comes from projects for industrial clients, the construction and energy sectors, and the supply of soundproofing materials.

With such diverse activities, the question naturally arises whether it would be wiser for the company to focus on one or two activities. “We had to seriously consider a plan for the coming years,” says Ter Horst. He already had a vision of Merford’s future, but he realized that it wasn’t clear enough for the Board of Supervisors and shareholders. “We formulated several different objectives: gathering insights for the future of Merford and then refining and quantifying those insights. I wanted to have a story that could convince the Board of Supervisors but also a story that I could tell our employees. That way, they understand what we’re doing when we take a certain step.”

In terms of content, Merford’s future plans hardly changed, as supported by Niels van der Weerdt from Turner. “The strategy, the plan, and the ideas were already there. They didn’t change significantly. The most important thing was turning them into an executable strategy.” Ter Horst adds, “Are the considerations behind it correct? Does our story make sense? And how do you ensure that you can execute this plan and make it understandable to the stakeholders?”

2. What led to the breakthrough? In terms of content, change management, and/or project management?

The breakthrough consisted of two elements: explicitly making choices and breaking down the ambitions for 2026 into manageable parts. By making the objectives explicit, they can be assessed. “Normally, we mainly look at revenue and margin development,” says Ter Horst. “Now we have divided our ambition into four pillars. For each pillar, we have defined the underlying projects, including the results we want to achieve within the timeframe. Previously, we did not have a clear link between the initiatives and what they were supposed to deliver, but now we do.” Van der Weerdt adds, “Instead of being entrepreneur-led, Merford has become a more strategy-led organization. When you look at the growth potential and the initiatives, that’s what made the breakthrough.”

The discussion about potentially divesting activities to gain focus has been left behind by Merford. “I firmly believed that the combination of these three activities would make us strong,” says Ter Horst. “And it helps to have Turner challenge that question. Niels’ analysis contributed to removing that discussion from the table. The course is now clear for everyone in the organization. This is what we’re going for, and now we’re going full throttle.”

According to Van der Weerdt, the three different activities fit together very well. “They form a nice continuum. The problem was previously in choosing different markets. Merford has clearly chosen to focus on acoustic core competency. This sharp delineation has also led Robbert-Jan to decide against an acquisition, which he might have done in the past.” Ter Horst confirms, “We did indeed have discussions with a party, but because we formulated our choice more sharply around acoustics, we decided not to proceed with the acquisition.”

An additional benefit of retaining the three business units is that Merford remains a potential partner for large enterprises. “In the Benelux, we are the market leader in acoustic solutions, while most of our competitors limit themselves to one or two of the activities we offer. That keeps us on the radar of major players. The needs of those large enterprises also align with our offering of acoustic solutions, materials, and standard products.”

3. How was the execution achieved?

Merford has grown through entrepreneurship, but the next step requires professionalization of the strategy to achieve further growth. To that end, Merford, in collaboration with Turner, has developed a plan under the motto “Breaking Barriers with Sound.” Ter Horst explains, “We want to break three different barriers. First, breaking through the barrier of €30 million in revenue. We have already achieved that, reaching €32 million in 2022. Second, we want to break the barriers between the three business units. Can they collaborate more? That is currently being worked on. And third, we want to break existing patterns, dedicating more attention to development and innovation.”

Ter Horst clarifies that their goal is not to become the most innovative company in the sector. “You can be the cheapest, like Aldi or Lidl, or you can be the most innovative, like Apple, but neither of those is our ambition. We have chosen customer intimacy: we want our customers to ‘walk away’ with us and keep coming back. That is our starting point: we want to be the most enjoyable and best company to work with and for.” The plans are now fully embedded in the family business. Ter Horst pays attention to the progress in every meeting, both with the Board of Directors and employees. “The clarity in our strategy is already helpful,” he says. “We recently made an acquisition in Belgium. If our strategy hadn’t been so clear, I might have faced questions. But this acquisition seamlessly aligned with two of the four pillars we have formulated.

4. Are there benefits for all stakeholders? For customers, shareholders, employees, management, and society?

“If you’re not growing, you’re falling behind,” says Ter Horst. “So we want to grow, not only because of inflation but also because growth provides the means to invest in marketing and development. Additionally, growth gives us the opportunity to offer our employees more chances for advancement. As we grow, more roles become available for our people to grow into.”

This focus on our own people aligns with the character of a family business, explains Ter Horst. “Naturally, our shareholders benefit from our focus. We don’t get distracted by day-to-day whims but keep our sights set on the long term. Continuity is of utmost importance at Merford. And to ensure that, we must continue to develop ourselves and innovate our product solutions.”

Simultaneously, Merford pays significant attention to sustainability. “It’s part of our DNA as a family business. The entire roof of our production hall has been covered in solar panels for years, and all our leased vehicles are electric. Moreover, you can see this commitment reflected in the circularity of our products. Currently, we still use materials that are not the most sustainable, such as mineral wool. It is inexpensive, fire-resistant, and highly functional, offering significant advantages. However, we are actively working on sustainable alternatives like flax. It may be considerably more expensive, but it is circular. Unfortunately, many purchasers primarily focus on price. I have instructed our salespeople to still try to entice them. Often, company websites claim a high commitment to sustainability. By referencing that, we can determine if sustainability is truly a company policy.”

5. What was the most significant dilemma, and how did you deal with it?

The most significant dilemma? Not an easy question, according to Ter Horst. “I believe our most significant dilemma revolved around the apparent contradiction between the breadth of our activities and the search for our strengths. The Board of Directors wondered if it would be wiser to increase our focus. Through our research and analysis, we were able to convince them that the strength of Merford lies precisely in the combination of the three activities. We are the only one-stop acoustic solution provider in the Benelux.”

“The direction is now clear to everyone in the organization. This is what we’re striving for, and now we’re going full speed ahead.”

Robbert-Jan Ter Horst, Managing Director of Merford

“Merford has transformed from a business led by entrepreneurs to a strategy-led company. When you look at the growth potential and the initiatives, that was the breakthrough.”

Niels van der Weerdt, Senior Advisor and Program Manager Strategy at Turner

Want to know more about Turner?

For the fourth consecutive year, Turner Strategy Execution has been recognized by clients as the best strategic consulting firm in the Netherlands. Over 4,000 executives and professionals participated in the MT1000 survey, where Turner received the highest ratings for strategy advice, customer focus, excellent execution, and product leadership.

Please read more about the results achieved by other clients with assistance of Turner Strategy Execution. Want to learn more? Contact us for further information.

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